Julian Jones, former Head of Strength and Conditioning for the Australian Institute of Sport, and board member of the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, outlines how he got into strength and conditioning, the challenges of managing and leading strength and conditioning coaches, why universities don’t get S & C coaches job-ready, and the current challenges of the strength and conditioning industry.

Furthermore, we discuss

Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Julian Jones. Julian has been the Head of Strength and Conditioning for the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] for more than 20 years and has moved into a more senior role now.

He’s a board member of the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association [ASCA]. He prepared athletes over 6 Olympic cycles, including 38 Olympic medalists.

Welcome, Julian.

Julian: Thanks, Christian. It is good to be here.

His experience as a member of the organizing committee for the Sydney Olympics 2000

Christian: Julian, I read you were a member of the Organizing Committee for the Sydney Olympics 2000. How was that?

Julian: Yes, that was an interesting dynamic because I was appointed as the Competition Director for Olympic Weightlifting for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. I was appointed to that role in 1994 when the Organizing Committee was put together.

However, I actually didn’t fully complete that assignment given that I was involved in the strength and conditioning role at the AIS that I’ve been in for a long period of time. Additionally, because it was a home Olympics, we got to that stage of wondering if I had abandoned my teams and my athletes with two years to go to follow through on the organization of the competition.

Literally, it was the end of that job anyway because the Olympics were over. I thought about whether I should continue and actually go to the Olympics with one of the teams to make sure that we were there for the athletes and the coaches that we work with. That was a decision that I made at the end of the day.

In 1998, I actually stopped working for the Organizing Committee and really just honed in on making sure that the athletes and the coaches were the teams that I was working with then. I worked with the rowing, basketball, and swimming teams. Then I went to the games with the men’s basketball team to make sure that we got the outcomes as best as we could at that time.

How he got into Strength and Conditioning

Christian: How did you get into strength and conditioning?

Julian: From my perspective, I was an Olympic weightlifter as an athlete and the Australian Institute of Sport used to run a weightlifting program in its foundation year. When it opened, there were only ten sports involved with the AIS, and weightlifting was one of them. I was a fairly young individual at the time.

But as we progressed through and I became a senior lifter, it was just more of an interest. Strength and conditioning weren’t really perceived as a full-time profession in Australia at the time.

There was a couple of people that dabbled in it or had been weightlifters. Some did strength work while they were a player or an athlete and would do a little bit on the side. Everyone, however, knew the importance of doing strength training and conditioning.

The problem that we had at the Australian Institute of Sport was we were getting injuries from a number of athletes. There was no coaching for them, or expertise in that coaching, outside of the weightlifting program. But obviously, the coaches in the weightlifting program were coaching weightlifters.

So the physio department was headed up by a guy called Craig Purdam, who’s since retired, He actually asked me if I could do some rehab work. This was my initial introduction into the actual strength and conditioning field from being a weightlifter myself.

The physio department actually asked me if I could do some rehab work. This was my initial introduction into the actual strength and conditioning field from being a weightlifter myself.

It was more movement correction and ensuring that the right movement patterns were done. This was not just from an Olympic lifting perspective, but right posture, a bit of self-discovery, and a non-injury occurring technique with what they did.

That was my first foray into the strength and conditioning area. It just went from there, because I’d done a bit of voluntary work across a number of sports. You get a passion and a drive for them and went from there.

The place of Olympic weightlifting in Strength & Conditioning

Christian: Just a quick question, Olympic weightlifting and strength, and conditioning is a heated discussed topic. Some use it synonymously, some say it has no place. What’s your take on it?

Julian: You use it where it fits. My philosophy is that strength & conditioning is all about getting a performance gain and it’s about optimizing movement. Now if that movement requires higher speed, force at velocity rates that are higher than what you would normally get with other modalities, then an Olympic lift will be a good way to teach and get those qualities moving along because the sport will do it anyway.

You just need to put them into an overloaded environment where you can use heavier resistances so you get the adaptation at the neuromuscular and muscular level. They’re applicable in some sports and they’re not applicable in others.

Strength & conditioning is all about getting a performance gain and it’s about optimizing movement. So, you use the Olympic lifts where it fits.

It depends on what athlete you have in front of you as well. Why would I give a shooter Olympic lifts? It might be fun to challenge them if they’re a bit athletic and sometimes we may do that because it’s more around athletic prowess and they might like to do it.

Would I stop them from doing it? No, but will it actually be a transfer into their sports performance? Probably not. I wouldn’t program it accordingly, but there are definitely sports that lend themselves to using Olympic movements and you would program them accordingly if that’s the case.

The trends and fads that have entered the Strength and Conditioning profession in the last 4 decades

Christian: You’ve been in strength and conditioning for some time. Over the years, we have seen trends come and go. What were the trends that stayed and what were the trends that were probably more fads?

Julian: That’s an interesting one and the fads definitely go around pieces of equipment, more so than anything else, or a system that’s trying to be sold. Probably the big one for me was the Swiss Ball evolution and suddenly you had to do everything on a Swiss ball.

The fads definitely go around pieces of equipment, more so than anything else, or a system that’s trying to be sold.

It was all about core stability first, before actually strength and power development. That was the one that really took over everything that was being put forward at the time. That’s probably early nineties to mid-nineties where that craze just went ballistic there for a while.

The talk was that you did not have to bother squatting because you could try and stand on a Swiss ball. As we know, there are completely different capacities in what we’re talking about here, and actually, does that transfer into the activity that you want to have a better sporting performance from?

There are elements of it, but it’s a case of the selling mechanism. The promotion is a hard one to swallow when you know that activation patterns are different. Even muscle recruitment situations are different, but then in lots of ways, you can’t measure that either.

You’ve really got to go with a capacity change. A good colleague of mine says the muscle doesn’t have eyes. Therefore, if you can just increase the capability of the musculature and then your brain dictates what you’re going to do with that musculature, then you can actually get better capacities in the movement patterns that you’re after.

The other one for me that seems to be doing the rounds now is more so the velocity-based pieces of equipment that are out there. They are trying to tell you that we can strap it onto one piece of our anatomy and it gives us the velocity of what we’re trying to do with certain body parts.

Trying to say that you’ll strap on a linear transducer on your forearm to say that your squats are going well is probably a long bow to draw from my perspective.

I’m not a big believer in velocity from an arm exercise only. I am more into multi muscular exercises where you want velocity predominantly because in most of the sporting activities that we’re involved in, velocity initiates at the hip.

Now, it can go down the chain or up the chain, but you’ve got to train it that way. Trying to say that you’ll strap on a linear transducer on your forearm to say that your squats are going well is probably a long bow to draw from my perspective and the reliability and validity studies are few and far between.

His darkest moment

Christian: In your life as an S & C coach, what was the darkest moment?

Julian: That’s an interesting one. It’s when an athlete actually really has a major injury, such as knee anterior cruciate ruptures, whether it’s during one of your training sessions where you might be just doing drills. I’ve had a couple of those over the years.

Other injuries include shoulder issues and dislocations but it’s inherent in high-performance sport. You’re pushing the envelope. You’re trying to get them into boundaries that they’ve never been before because that’s the sporting outcome that they’re striving for.

It’s when an athlete actually really has a major injury, and you think about them forever and a day actually wonder if you could have done something different.

Unfortunately, it’s the environment we’re in and they are dark moments. You think about them forever and a day actually wonders if you could have done something different. But it’s a case of just accepting that whilst we promote hard performance sport as a health message. By the time our athletes have gone through that high-performance sports spectrum, they’re probably not the healthiest individuals you’ll see in retirement, put it that way.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Julian: I’ve probably got a couple, over a number of Olympic games. I’m married to an Olympic champion who I’ve obviously coached and had a major input into.

My wife won three Olympic gold medals in swimming in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. These were in the butterfly and two relays after three shoulder reconstructions, which we did the rehabilitation for. Obviously, too, the performance capacity work over that whole time was also a highlight.

Another one is the men’s basketball team coming fourth at the Sydney Olympics. We could have won a medal there, but we didn’t have a good game against France that we’d beaten in the lead-up tournament. Therefore, we were knocked out of the semi’s and we came up short against Lithuania in the bronze medal match, but that was a highlight.

When you see the physical outcome and watch that event and you know you’ve been part of that team and part of those athletes’ progress for quite some time. They’re the highlights that you get and it all comes together when they win a World Championship or Olympic Games

Other things include rowing in the Men’s Eight in Sydney and the Women’s Pair in Athens. Again, they’re all medalist-type situations and represent the fruit of your work. They turn around and they thank you for it, and that’s all you can expect.

However, when you actually go and see the physical outcome and watch that event and you know you’ve been part of that team and part of those athletes’ progress for quite some time, they’re the highlights that you get when they turn around. It all comes together when they win a World Championship or Olympic Games, or they win an Olympic medal. That’s the buzz stuff.

His advice to a younger Julian Jones

Christian: If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give a younger Julian?

Julian: Some of the aspects that a couple of my mentors over the years have told me was I tended to be probably too black and white early on in my S & C career. I did an interview for Al Vermeil for last year’s AIS online conference and he actually reminded me of something he told me.

I went to visit them when he was at the Chicago Bulls in 1997. He told me not to get caught up with the absolute correct, or the perfect figure that I was after. He also reminded me that we all work within a spectrum.

That’s a sound advice then as it is now in that it doesn’t have to be perfect when you’re doing it and it’s within a framework of the things that you want to get done. Don’t get caught up with collecting all the data, so you’ve got all these entry points that it maps this way.

It’s about actually building the relationship with the athlete, so they’ll commit to doing what you want them to do, and they believe that you’ve got their best interests at heart. Don’t get too technical and don’t get caught up with the pure data situation.

Don’t get caught up with collecting all the data, it’s about actually building the relationship with the athlete, so they believe that you’ve got their best interests at heart.

Early on, it was a case of I needed to program this way and I needed to get ‘x’ amount of tonnage or reps in from that perspective. Really, what’s the difference, from doing fives and threes to sixes and fours? It’s not a whole lot in the end of the day.

Did he never contemplate going into professional sports

Christian: A lot of people see professional sport as the Holy Grail. Considering you were in Olympic sports for so long, did you never contemplate going into professional sports?

Julian: I’ve dabbled early in my career in professional sports. I did a season with Rugby League here in Australia, which is a major professional sport, North Sydney Bears. I’ve worked with domestic professional basketball clubs as well.

I did go into that area a little bit, but at that time, again, you weren’t surrounded by a team of staff that seems to be around those teams now. Getting into the situation and the organization that I was in, I had the opportunity to actually work full time across a number of sports at the same time.

It actually helped me think more laterally. This is something that I’ve found from some of my former staff that has gone on to work in professional clubs, is that they like the Institute Network, as we call it here, that gives the ability to work with two or three sports.

It keeps their lateral thinking and their challenging mechanism up, rather than when they’ve got a squad of forty guys on the roster and it’s just football or baseball and that’s all they work with. They find that after three or four years in the same environment, they don’t look and challenge themselves laterally as much as they used to.

Yes, I definitely had looked at those sorts of things in getting into an environment in the Olympic situation where you’re employed full time and then seeing the fruits of your outcomes. It’s a case of whether you are money-driven, or whether it’s getting your athletes’ and coaches’ outcomes driven. Money will come and it’s nice to have ‘x’ amount of money, but it’s a situation of what is the passion and what is the drive.

Christian: Yes, and that’s what most S & C people get into. They get into it because of the passion, so if you’re suddenly changing, it can be frustrating.

His advice to young, aspiring S & C coaches

Christian: What advice would you give young, aspiring S & C coaches?

Julian: Talk to as many people and go and observe and look at coaching sessions of other coaches as much as possible. S & C is not a one size fits all, you have to be a critical thinker and you don’t want clones produced.

S & C is not a one size fits all, you have to be a critical thinker.

You want people that can take and filter information and apply it to the environment that’s in front of them. I always love it when people ask me for the program of the person that was successful because they don’t know and they want the program that they’re on now.

They don’t know what they were on four weeks before, or what they were doing two years ago. They don’t know the elements that we actually targeted to say that we need to get some capacity or performance shifts that would translate into a better capability in performing this part of the race or playing in this part of the game.

You need to be able to be a critical thinker of what different modalities might apply where. We always look around to see if they responded to one type of programming or not. Again, it’s dependent on the athlete in front of you and how different coaches go about that.

This actually gives you a much broader range of opportunities to program in different ways to get the outcome that you’re after. You don’t follow a single pathway and be dogmatic in that if you’re not getting the gains that you’re after, you’ll go again with the same thing. Think differently, apply different processes. Think outside the box to get your athlete to make those shifts.

Why S & C students aren’t prepared for the S & C job

Christian: I found a comment of you that deeply resonated with me. I’m going to read it and hopefully not butcher it too much.

“It’s a real issue that the S & C industry faces, as the university sector in most cases does not make the student job-ready. They will have good knowledge, but no experience or the skill to complete the job done.”

Why it resonates so strongly with me, and this is basically the feeling I had when I left university and took up my first job, is that I realized I had to learn a lot of things by myself and I wasn’t taught, which I expected.

Can you expand on that comment?

Julian: I’m making a bit of a sweeping statement here, but it is in general that universities are teaching you from a knowledge acquired situation. They will fill you up with knowledge and then teach you critical thinking strategies in how to apply that knowledge.

They don’t develop your skillsets. How do you influence someone to train with the intent you want them to? Those are the skills that we call ‘soft skills’ or ‘tactical skills’ here. It obviously translates differently around the world, but it means the same thing.

Can you relate to the athlete? Can you establish trust and rapport and a belief mechanism that you can get the most out of your athletes, training capability, and application that you can possibly get?

Universities will fill you up with knowledge, they don’t develop your skillsets on how to establish trust and rapport, and a belief mechanism that you can get the most out of your athletes.

You don’t get that in a university course. We do what we call success profiles here in our recruitment situation. There are four quadrants that go with being successful in a role and university academic qualifications are only in one quadrant.

You’ve got another three to go before you’ll actually be successful in that role. It’s part of the journey and hence why I tell younger coaches that even though they’re doing a university degree, they should get out and coach. I encourage them to get out and formulate how you would build rapport with a different types of coaches in the sport.

You might be the smartest, most intelligent person in the room, but if you can’t communicate at their level and establish that influence, it doesn’t matter.

Ultimately, if you’re not on the side and part of the performance team that the coach has around their team, or in that sport, then you can’t get your job done as effectively as you could do. You might be the smartest, most intelligent person in the room, but if you can’t communicate at their level and establish that influence, it doesn’t matter.

The ideal university curriculum to educate Strength & Conditioning coaches

Christian: How would you see an ideal scenario from a university curriculum to educate S & C coaches?

Julian: It’s more around looking at mentoring and coaching opportunities and not just in one sport either. As I said before, you want them to actually have a number of different sport touchpoints, so you see how they handle different types of athletes for starters and then different shapes and sizes.

It’s more around looking at mentoring and coaching opportunities, so you see how they handle different types of athletes.

They need to accommodate that and actually sell their message, gain influence, and be able to then apply their trade. When you can do that as a natural thing, it’s not as daunting for you to do it, then you’re a more relaxed and more confident coach, and that comes across to your athletes as well.

The qualities he is looking for when hiring S & C coaches

Christian: You’ve alluded to it. The next question is about the qualities of an S & C coach. You have hired multiple S and C coaches. What are the qualities you look for? You said education is one out of the four. What are the other three?

Julian: I want to know about their work ethic and that they have a reflective nature. The other bit is that they’re team motivated rather than ‘me’ motivated because, at the end of the day, you’re a support staff.

Work ethic, a reflective nature, and being team motivated rather than ‘me’ motivated.

You’re not the person who’s going to be put in front of the TV screen or the paper article. The athlete is, or the actual sports coach is, so you need to actually look at those qualities. Some of those, you can enhance, some of them are engrained.

We had the debate of whether being a generalist or a specialist and definitely a case of everyone actually should have a specialty area, but it doesn’t prevent them from doing general activities. But in some cases, you will get the specialist telling you that some things are not their job and they cannot do some things.

You let them know that they’ve got to be part of the team and that’s the work ethic thing. If you’ve got to drive the bus to the airport to pick up the athletes who’ve come in the second stage and you’re the strength and conditioning coach, go and drive the bus.

It gives you far more opportunities to actually build influence with the athletes that you’ve just picked up at the airport. They actually then know that you’re the guy that picked them up at the airport. They’re grateful that you’re the strength and conditioning coach, but it was good of you to actually pick them up.

It’s different ways of doing that. It’s definitely when you look to hire people, you consider that work ethic and then that growth mindset that comes with it.

Are they prepared to tinker and tweak and adjust and adopt different ways of doing things as they become better coaches and better research and evidence comes out that they will be able to apply them into the programming and into their workload?

His coaching philosophy

Christian: Let’s move into more S & C coaching questions. What is your coaching philosophy?

Julian: Movement optimization first and everything hangs off that. It’s about performance. It’s not about whether they need strength work, power work, or endurance conditioning. The first question is ‘Do they move well?’

The first question is ‘Do they move well?’

If not, is it injury occurring? I’ll need to correct it and do they have the capacities to optimize that movement and have they got the capacity to actually get better performance outcomes? My coaching philosophy with the athletes is that you’ve got to build trust, honesty, and good rapport, so you can actually make them better people at the end of the day.

Also, I tend to have a philosophy with myself and my staff in that you actually want to make yourself redundant. I don’t think you ever do. It’s just a case of you have different stages of the maturity of your athlete.

You coach them in different ways. Your cues are different as they progress through their careers. My coaching philosophy is really athlete-centered, coach-driven, built around trust, honesty, and a good rapport, but then evidence-based applications of methodology that will optimize the performance outcomes around movement efficiencies.

His core values

Christian: What are your core values?

Julian: Honesty, loyalty, and respect would be big ones and then teamwork. Those four things underpin most of the things that we do. I’m a big believer that people are who they are. I always found it interesting when we get assessed on how we align to the values of the organization.

You’re not going to suddenly change your values as a person if you got a job in a different organization and they’ve got different values. That should actually be part of the recruitment situation and you’re never going to align up a hundred percent all the time because that’s the corporate world of values of the organization.

I always found it interesting when we get assessed on how we align to the values of the organization. You’re not going to suddenly change your values as a person if you got a job in a different organization and they’ve got different values.

That anchors some of the activities that you do in those organizations, but you as a person, those values are established by your parents really, and the environment that you’re brought up in. If you can demonstrate those along the way and even identify them, that’s an absolute bonus because you hold yourself accountable in those areas and from a self-reflection perspective.

The person that has impacted him most

Christian: Which is the person that has impacted you most and why?

Julian: That’s an interesting one. My father actually was my weightlifting coach and he still is a weightlifting coach at 82 years of age. He still goes down and coaches three times a week at one of the gyms on our campus actually, because it’s the local Institute of Sport that’s on our campus these days.

In terms of influencing what I do as a person and my background of looking at strength, power, and force application, he’s a very well-read, very evidence-based person. That’s had the most influence on my life, given that he’s the person that I’ve spent the most time with from being born to this day in that situation and having discussions around that.

It’s a couple of guys that I’ve worked with over the years. The national basketball coach that I worked with here for 12 years, Barry Barnes, and the national rowing coach for Australia, who’s a German-Romanian, Ryan Holt Barchie, who was the national coach for rowing in Australia from 1976 till 2000.

He had a lot of influence in terms of what you’re looking at, such as coaching principles. Whilst he’s a hard taskmaster, it’s all about the feel. He taught you to articulate things like the difference between that movement and this movement. It’s the art of coaching.

That’s the bit in watching him coach, and whilst he’s got his loading, his sets and reps, his distances, and all those sorts of things squared away, it’s more around the feel and how to get the athlete to really recognize and hone in on that. That’s been a big influence.

Christian: I don’t want to say it’s forgotten, but it’s not very often mentioned that that is also a big part of training. Very often, we are busy with the quantifiable stuff, the science-y side, but then actually the art of coaching, that is something that’s not very often spoken about.

Julian: Absolutely. This is especially true, as technology gets better and better, and we produce more pieces of equipment that can measure certain bits that we want to. You look at 20 years ago and if you could actually get access to a force plate, you were lucky.

Now, most facilities have got them and then we’ve got portable, linear position transducers as well. We’ve got elements of feedback from a number point and that’s a trap that younger coaches get into as well. They focus on things like moving your power output from 1200 Watts to 2000 watts.

Yes, but could you have done that by getting them to move correctly and know what the feeling of that right movement pattern is? You could have done that in half an hour instead of six weeks of your program.

How to manage expectations

Christian: Talking about dealing with individuals as an S & C coach, we have certain expectations and ideas, but sometimes the individuals, the athlete has different ideas. How do you manage expectations?

Julian: That’s a good one and that comes back to the relationship you form with the athlete. I guess it also comes down to the stage that you start working with that athlete. It’s a different relationship the older the athlete becomes. It’s more a ‘command and control’ with a younger athlete.

You’re not going to get into the discussion with a 15-year old that you’ll get into with a 25-year old, so it’s dependent on what the outcomes are. First up, it’s about building that trust that they believe that you have their best interests at heart, which we should have as the coach. We want to optimize their performance outcome.

It’s about building that trust that they believe that you have their best interests at heart, which we should have as the coach.

Now, if they are dogmatic around some of the bits that they want to do, which clash with what you want to do, I don’t have a problem initially allowing them to do some of that stuff. But it’s a case of then measuring it and seeing if we get the gains or the shift in the capacity that we’re after.

If it means that we’ve got to forsake two or three months to actually demonstrate and get that buy-in, I’ll be doing other things as well. It’s a bit of a trade-off, in that you can demonstrate to them that they weren’t going to get what they thought they were going to get out of it and show them the data that backs that up.

Christian: Reminds me of what John Mitchell said, “Give a little bit to receive a lot.”

Julian: Yes, exactly and that’s the whole thing. I think that’s with coaches, as well as athletes. You see some people who want to come in and dictate what goes on with the program and the sports coach just tells them that it’s not going to happen.

The coach straight up lets them know that they can’t come in with that philosophy because they haven’t established the relationship. You’re going to have to give some to get some. That’s a classic example, with the rowing head coach that I mentioned before.

When I started working with rowing, I came in and I was shown the program that they were going to do. I was there for technical feedback and movement correction. Two years later, they then asked my input into what we were going to do. Then you would have spent the time and invested heavily to get that return, so ultimately you became fully in charge of the whole thing.

When I started working with rowing, I came in and I was shown the program that they were going to do. I was there for technical feedback and movement correction. Two years later, they then asked my input into what we were going to do.

Whereas if you’d actually gone in and the first thing when they gave you the program, you told them that you’re not doing that, then you would have been shown the door plain and simple. You’re not going to have any influence and you’re not going to gain anything out of that other than looking for another job.

Christian: It’s also ultimately what a lot of people do not fully understand that the head coach is ultimately responsible, so if you come in as a new coach, and then he or she doesn’t fully know you and what you’re capable of, but if you implement something new and it goes wrong, it’s his or her head that is chopped off.

Julian: Well, that’s exactly right and you need to appreciate the situation that they’re in because they’re in relatively short-term contracts at the end of the day. They can’t afford to have any major setbacks in the environment that they’ve got. Literally, if they’re on a four-year contract, it’s really not a long time in an athlete’s career.

If it means that they’re out for six to twelve months because of something that happened, they can’t afford to do that. We as support staff, and even though we’re coaches as well, we are to actually back up that situation.

How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with

Christian: Talking about support staff, in a team of support staff, everyone is wearing his own head. When there’s conflict or different ideas and a decision is taken that you don’t necessarily resonate with. How do you deal with that?

Julian: Everyone’s different and everyone is who they are. I think this is a bit of a misnomer when you’re leading teams, is that who you’ve got in your team is who you’ve got. What you need to make the team aware of is what type of people each of them is and yourself, so they know how to work with you and you know how to work with them.

We don’t spend enough time doing that. If we spend too much time in isolation and only come together infrequently, it’s really dominated by the fact that you’re in isolation and it’s about what you want to do rather than what the team collectively wants to come to.

You want a multidisciplinary team to come out with interdisciplinary solutions, so everyone has input. Ultimately, it’s the performance outcome that we all land and agree on.

You want a multidisciplinary team to come out with interdisciplinary solutions.

Now, there’ll be certain bits that you can trade off, or sequentially let them know that they can’t do one thing until they do the other, and you build that understanding. I tend to always look at whether or not it’s something that I would do, why are they doing it, and whether or not it is driven for a performance outcome to optimize the athlete, or is it driven because they want to do something.

If it’s not the first, then I would challenge. If it is the first, then that’s fine because there’ll be an opportunity in that sequential progression for me to actually put the bits in that I want to put in.

A typical day in the life of a Head of Strength & Conditioning

Christian: How does a typical training day or a typical day in the life of an S & C coach, or Head of S & C look like?

Julian: Well, as Head of S & C, it’s good because you can choose whether you get up early or not. Coming from being aquatics-based, as well as swimming and water polo, I’ve spent a lot of time coaching early morning sessions.

In lots of cases, that was a case of working with a coach to actually stop them from trying to do some strength work before they went in the pool. At 5:00 AM, trying to get them in the gym to do something so they can get in the pool at 6:00 defeats the purpose as we know.

Traditionally and culturally in swimming, they tend to try and do whatever they can do with the athlete when they’ve got them rather than a structured day situation when they become senior athletes. For me, it’s normally around an eight o’clock start in walking the facilities actually in terms of where the staff is delivering whatever they’re doing and following up with the sports as to how it’s going.

Then getting into these days, looking and meeting with my senior staff as to what’s on their agendas for the day, or the week with their teams. My senior staff has junior staff reporting to them, or facility staff reporting to them in terms of what we want to get done.

We flow through to planning strategic views of things, operational views of things because they’re different obviously because one’s a longer term horizon and one’s here and now, and we always have here and now issues. Something will prop up every day that has to be fixed now.

Those things are taken care of and then it’s afternoon training sessions that come after that and a bit of a debrief before we go home and reflection on the planning in a typical day. But then on certain days, we’ll do review of programming, review of annual plans working with the sports engagement-wise around.

We wanted to know about their performance barriers and what we could help them with. As we come to that performance team question, it might not necessarily fall wholly and solely to strengthen conditioning.

It may actually fall to biomechanics or physio, or physiology to get something done before we’ll do some intervention stuff. It’s continually updating and being in a dynamic environment of planning and delivery over each day and each week.

How to design a training program

Christian: How do you design a training program, step-by-step.

Julian: We base it off planning from the performance gaps of the athlete, or the team in front of us. It’s looking at you swimming as an example. We break that up into the four elements of the swimming race. Are they deficient in any of the free swimming areas, or the start or the turn?

Four part we say is a finish, but the finish takes care of itself because they’ve got nothing left in the tank when they’re actually hitting the wall. That’s not going to make much difference there, but starts, turns, free swimming, are they strong enough to hold the right technique?

Swimming is about strength and length, so have they got the right length? Do they not shorten up during the race? Do they apply enough force off the block and off the turn to optimize their start time and their turn time, once you know what the elements are and what bits you need to work on, what capacities and qualities do they need to actually execute those things?

We base the planning from the performance gaps of the athlete.

If they need to apply more force, have they got enough musculature to apply more force? Now some do, so their musculature is not at their optimal level of application, but some of them don’t have enough musculature.

You look at them in swimming especially and you let them know that they’re not going to really apply much force out of their legs. We’ll address them and I tend to look at it from a whole body down to a segmented situation, as our program.

I’ll do the multi muscular movements and coordinated movements, or if it’s velocity as well, they’ll go first and then we cascade down to some of those single joint movements towards the end if that’s necessary. Always start off with some of the rehab prehab situations.

In swimming, we always do some shoulder internal external rotation every day of the program. They can’t do enough of that. If they’re only doing three or four strength and conditioning sessions a week, then they need to do three or four sessions of internal external rotation because they do way too many internal rotations when they’re swimming.

Anything of a resisted and increased resisted nature we can do there, we always put that first. We just reinforced that capacity that we’re trying to optimize, so they don’t put themselves in an injury occurring situation and that’s the way I do that.

Conditioning-wise, I tend to now work with the sports coach more, so that the conditioning is more of a remedial conditioning. The conditioning component is taken care of in the sport component because there’s nothing more laborious with some of your athletes than trying to do some conditioning work in most cases.

I find that if you can integrate that into the sporting session itself, then the more attentive and the more intent they have with doing it. Obviously, at certain points in time, they’ll come off the ball, or they might have a niggly injury for a little while and their capacities will dropdown. So you’ll do some remedial stuff there with them and then put them back into the sports environment, once they’re ready.

His interview nomination

Christian: We’re getting to the end of the interview. Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Julian: It’s a good one actually. I don’t know who you’ve already talked to. I know some of them, but not all of them in that way. A guy that’s done very well that came through as a scholarship coach in our program, to this day, he’s a good coach and he develops a number of people now, but Adam Beard, who’s at the Chicago Cubs these days.

He was at Cleveland Browns before that and Welsh Rugby before that. But the way he now integrates his performance team, because he’s the Performance Director at the Cubs. He’s come from strength and conditioning like myself, but he’s done it in an earlier situation and in the professional codes.

There are some interesting stories of cultural biases in American sports and things that he has to navigate that you and I probably were wondering how he did it. He’s got to deal with agents telling the players what they should be doing and not doing because they get a cut of what the player does and it’s millions and millions of dollars.

It’s a huge influence even to the tune of player association agreements with the leagues. In American football, you can’t test the players, if the players don’t want to be tested and it can’t be held against them. How do you do your programming?

It’s a different way of doing things that we wouldn’t ordinarily take on board. We question how it is that they don’t do it, but they don’t have to. So it’s a different environment from what you would think. It would be an interesting chat.

Christian: Absolutely.

What’s going on in the life of Julian Jones at this moment in time

Christian: What’s going on in the life of Julian Jones at this moment in time?

Julian: Dealing with trying to get sports into our facilities for their training camps because of COVID restrictions, to be honest. Then, looking further down the track as to the makeup of my team to optimize the outcomes that we’re after.

We keep making subtle tweaks around what our staff makeup is. Today, we’re even talking about instigating a new early career practitioner development program for the system in Australia. We dabbled with having some full-time roles to optimize that.

We’ve probably think now that it’s better to do some fast track workshops over a two-year period, by people who are already employed in the system. However, these would be persons who don’t have any more than about four or five years’ experience, but they have at least two years’ experience because your first two years is a massive learning curve, whatever you’re going to do.

We spent quite a bit of time today talking about how we could do that and looking at some of the proposals that are being put forward. It’s something coming back from coaches, that they need people as we’ve discussed earlier in this interview. They need a lot of team players on their performance teams, as well as being very good at the delivery of their specialty area, and strength and conditioning is one of them.

His recent move into a more senior role

Christian: You have moved into a more senior role. I read something about the AWE policy. What’s that about?

Julian: That’s an interesting one. So that was a policy that was launched seven years ago. It’s actually not in effect anymore, but I’ve moved into a different role now where at the AIS, we had a restructure in 2018, which pretty much instead of employing support staff in large numbers, we’ve given the money to the sports to employ them if they want them.

We now have a core team of support people. I’ve got sixteen practitioners across dieticians, physiology, strength and conditioning, nutrition, psychology, the gambit, that you would normally have in your performance team.

That takes care of whatever resident programs we have on the Canberra campus and then visiting sports that come in and use it for training camp location. We service them and we help them in their performance outcomes.

It’s nowhere near as big an organization in the support area as it was. We had 110 staff in the support area to off with and then after the restructure we’re down to 24.

Christian: What was the rationale for the restructure?

Julian: It was based on the feedback that sports gave. They weren’t getting what they wanted to get. We were giving them what we had.

It’s one of those things, which is hard to do when you’ve got a bigger staff cohort. They’ve been working in the system for quite some time to tinker around the edges as we’re doing now and change some of those roles if you need them.

If we didn’t one year need as many physiologists, we couldn’t just get rid of them because of our work laws in this country. We would end up saying if a sport needed a psychologist, or a strength and conditioning coach, and we only had a physiologist, they would complain about that, and rightly so.

It was a situation of, well, if we give the money to the sports at the level that they’ve been getting the people allocation element, they can pick and choose where they spend their money. The problem we found with that though, having said that, no system’s perfect.

There’s give and take all around the edges. They don’t realize what the market worth is of good practitioners, so they’re always trying to spend as little as they can, but want the best quality, which never works.

The biggest challenges on a management level

Christian: Almost the last question, which is probably a whole interview in itself. What are the biggest challenges on a management level?

Julian: That’s another interesting one because to me there’s a big difference between leading and managing. I think that’s an issue in lots of organizations in what they call senior management, is that you need some leaders in there.

There’s a big difference between leading and managing.

You don’t want ‘box tickers’ if you know what I mean, who are just doing to say that they’ve done this, this and that, yet they haven’t led the team to actually get the outcomes with the drive and the passion that you want them to optimize that environment. I think that’s one of the misnomers that we have.

We try and promote, or people see that because they’re technically good, they should therefore be in this management role, but then they don’t do the management and they don’t lead. They actually do more of what they did before.

They take the title of the role but don’t lead the teams. That’s probably the biggest challenge in the support areas. You actually need leaders who are prepared to lead and manage, not do the continuation of what they used to do as a technical practitioner.

Probably the biggest challenge in the support areas. We try and promote people because they’re technically good, they should therefore be in this management role. They take the title of the role but don’t lead the teams.

Christian: I would believe it’s probably a bit of a balancing act. You see that very often, if we look at our industry, in strength and conditioning, you are a coach and you move on into becoming a Strength and Conditioning Manager, which is good, because you understand what strength and conditioning entails, but management is also a skill that somewhat you need to learn in leadership, right?

Julian: Absolutely. You’ve got to invest time in that because it is different to coaching. You really have to work with different types of people and get the best out of them in the working environment, especially if you step outside of certain disciplines.

We can make stereotypical comments about strength and conditioning in that there are particular types of people in strength and conditioning, but we have a spectrum. But then if you actually went and asked how that compares with the dieticians, then you’ve got an even bigger spectrum, in what you’ve got to work at.

You’ve got to work out what motivates them to get their outcome and it’s not the same as what motivates a strength and conditioning coach to get their outcomes. You have to be aware of that and you need to communicate in the right way to optimize those things and that takes time and effort. You’ve got to learn that stuff.

Where can you find Julian Jones

Christian: Last question. There’s hardly anything to find about you, where can people find you online?

Julian: I’m only on one social media situation. I only use Twitter, mainly because I can get sporting results quickly on that one. I’m not a big fan of using social media components because you have to spend time doing that, which means, you give up time coaching or programming or looking at things that can optimize your athlete and coaching output.

I’ve got a LinkedIn profile. I go through that a little bit, but Twitter is probably the main one. So between those two, you can get a hold of me and see a few things that I make comments on and things like that.

Julian Jones’ social profiles

Twitter

LinkedIn

Outside of that, I’m probably classified as old school. Talk to me like this or send me an email and I’m happy to chat and share views on how to go about things.

Christian: Really cool. Julian, thanks a lot for sharing your experiences. Thank you.

Julian: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.